MOVIE REVIEW: "Gravity" (2013)

Negative_Zero's picture

I skipped reviewing this one the night I saw it because it was a late night to end a long string of late nights. That's made me lose a lot of the details I was going to talk about, so though I'm in much the same situation right now, I'm going to forge ahead with it. I blame severe lack of sleep for large portions of this review. In a technical sense, this was a very well made movie. The silence of space was both accurate and very compelling in setting the mood. The camerawork managed to convey a lot of impacts, shaking, spinning and other chaotic movements without going all streaky, nausea-inducing Cloverfield style shaky cam on us, big points for that. It really lent itself well to 3D, since the ability to perceive in all three dimensions of space is actually quite critical to your understanding of the action. The cinematography was quite good on the whole, enough for me to call the filming truly a work of art. As for what I was actually being shown, well that was an escalating cavalcade of frustrating disappointment, and I'll tell you why. Of course, the why is a lot of spoilers, so mind the gap.

Okay, I hate Dr. Stone. A lot. I'm not even going to jump into my trademark theatrical hyperbole in describing how much because essentially all of her actions just disengendered me to her even more with every one, to the point where I don't even want to dwell on it anymore because I've grown sick of my own emotions in that area. By the end, I was able to piece together the writers' intent with the bulk of these decisions, which was one of the few things that kept me from leaving the theater in the middle. The intent that I gathered was to show character development by giving her character something of a rocky start in skill, competence, confidence, sanity, courage, focus, composure, self-control, will to live, ability to utilize opposable thumbs to grip objects, basic understanding of mechanical physics, okay this is getting tedious. The character started off with some damn sexy zero-G boobies and some vague technical skills that were rendered entirely useless the moment the shit's orbit decayed such as to put it into contact with the fan at its next perigee. Those were the only three positive characteristics she possessed from the outset.

Even the only one of Dr. Stone' virtues with plot relevance, the reason that she's a Mission Specialist and not a space stewardess on this mission, was established in a ham-handed and ineffective fashion. In the midst of Sandra Bullock's boobs being utterly powerless to fix the Hubble's serial communications array, a rather innocuous and quite natural sounding radio dialogue between her and mission control was interrupted by engineering blurting out: "Well golly gee Doctor Stone, I guess you were right huh? Willikers! You're just so gosh darn smart Doctor Stone! I'll have to give your glorious space breasts an apology hug when they get back to earth. I mean when you get back to earth! Gheheheee..." If you wanted to establish Dr. Boobs' technical competence as a flimsy excuse for getting her into space in the first place, she could have to at one point or another been displayed perhaps not failing at her job? Once? Ever? That's the sort of thing that people judge by action, not what they're informed of. Everyone will use their own judge of character to determine the competence of the technician attached to Sandra Bullock's boobs, and form their opinion entirely on their own. Having other characters fawn over and compliment a character to establish their efficacy is a bullshit corner-cutting, Mary-Sue-crafting hack-fan-fiction cheap trick that has no place in cinema. And just as an aside, a smart, strong character would've had the stones to convince that stringy earth nerd that she's right in the first place. Thus circumventing the problem that had them still outside with the weather forecast suddenly turned quite nasty.

Grrr... talking about the non-boob parts of Dr. Stone is depressing, so I'm shifting the scope for a second. George Clooney was a total boss as usual. His cool masculine charm perfectly balanced local spacetime to prevent ripple distortions caused by the large swinging masses attached to his colleague on the robot arm. He's everything that an astronaut should be. Adventurous, cool under pressure, daring, calm when the heat is on, smart, able to keep his wits about him in an emergency situation, possessed of zen-like self control in the face of a crisis, able to face death with a grim but determined reservation, able to keep his emotions in check even while stressed... Hm, am I forgetting to emphasize one particular aspect sufficiently? Whatever, I'll come back to it. If all the crew had been at George-Clooney-level competence, they would've repaired the telescope in seconds, punched all the shrapnel out of orbit and sent the fragments of the derelict satellite crashing down in pieces over Scandinavia such that the flaming wreckage traced out a giant middle finger aimed at Moscow and still had time to achieve the world's first orbital conception. But that wouldn't have been an interesti- Actually scratch that I would've watched the hell out of that movie. Get on that, Hollywood.

I'll even give them a pass on Indian stereotype astronaut #3, even though it took me about 90 seconds to figure out that he was going to die immediately as soon as something above the level of a bent eyelash went wrong. You knew this guy was totally boned once we even came close to a bleeding-hangnail-level crisis. We never see his face, he contributes next to nothing to the mission or conversation, and he's off-camera for most of the shots. Yeah, it's patently obvious that he's wearing a red shirt under that spacesuit. I wasn't too offended by him though, as he's a passable audience avatar in the scenario. What would the average person be doing up there? I'll tell ya what: Wheeling around giggling impishly at how awesome zero-G is before being immediately space-murdered by a flying license plate off some Ruskie space clunker because stupid is instantly fatal when you're in space. Nice touch having the first clear shot of his face being the one where a few croutons from that high-speed twisted metal salad had liberated his meager brains from their fleshy prison, setting the stage for a new 'brains in space' opera.

Ah, good palate cleanser. Now, back at boobs HQ... Okay, so she's a timid scientist, not a real astronaut, and is only up here because they couldn't find someone actually good at space-ing to do the work. I get the impression that the heaping of praise by the ground crew is a woefully inadequate spray of Lysol to keep the audience from smelling what a shit character is there ruining the lovely pine fresh atmosphere that surrounds Sandra Bullock's boobs. Maybe she can turn this around, though. Maybe she can pull through in the clutch. Maybe in a crisis she- oh nevermind she completely falls apart and ruins everything even harder when the chips are down. So before the crisis her clumsiness at non-boob-related tasks just cost time and presumably billions of taxpayer dollars. Now it costs the airtight seal in the vapor-sealed environment and skull cavity of anyone unfortunate enough to be caught in the same metal space blizzard as she is. Awesome. Way to raise the stakes and then accidentally impale your eye on one of them.

Okay, so the ship briefly gains sapience and tries to defend itself by flinging a bunch of dead weight out into space to hasten its escape, but wastes too long savoring the departure of that annoying thing stuck on the end of its arm and is decimated by the hail of jagged space bullets. Despite her being quite unhelpful in the effort to preserve her own life, Dr. Stone was able to follow enough simple verbal instructions to allow George Clooney to save her because of course George Clooney is going to save her. The only reason he hasn't done the ol' Orientation-is-irrelevant mambo with her already is the multiple layers of space-proof fabric between the two of them. From there, George Clooney calmly states that they ought to gather the frozen corpses of their slaughtered crew with the tone of someone instructing Sandra Bullock's boobs to go pick up a half-pound of ham from the deli. And of course the one function on Dr. Boobs' suit that hasn't failed by that point is the panic button and she hammers at that irritatingly for a few moments while the one remaining competent astronaut quickly and decisively hatches a plan to fix everything.

Now, toting around George Clooney's immeasurably massive balls has depleted his space cowboy jetpack of fuel, and so he has to take the ultimate risk, telling Dr. Stone to do something besides whinge depressingly in the background and have attractive torso adornments. Quite a gamble, but it's his only option. Against all odds, Dr. Stone succeeds in accidentally becoming entangled in enough parachute cord to keep her from tumbling back out into space where she would have served science much better as an orbital research platform. George Clooney, thanks to his being chained to a wrecking ball of concentrated incompetence for most of the encounter, was unable to hold onto the station and thus is obligated to make use of some severely dilated time and questionable physics in order to heroically sacrifice himself such that Earth might maintain even the slightest chance of benefiting from his counterpart's truly glorious breasts for decades to come. To that end, as he spins off to certain death, he continues calmly shepherding Dr. Boobs through the equivalent of baby's first spacewalk to safety. And as his radio signal fades into silence, he takes in the awesome sights, revels in how totally freaking awesome being in space is and blasts some tunes as he fades- well, he doesn't really fade. He shoots away at 17,000 MPH into the sunset. Like. a. BOSS. The only thing that could ruin this penultimate moment of heroism is if some useless dolt nullified all that by doing everything in their power to somehow still manage to get themselves kill- aw dammit.

So, after curling up into a pre-natal metaphor that was about as subtle as being hit in the face with a cinder block covered in burning phosphors due to her weakened body's curling up from its inability to resist the mighty gravitational pull of its own bosom, Dr. Stone proceeds to chase after everything on the International Space Station that could conceivably kill her with the enthusiasm of Mr Magoo walking through an active construction site. This is a big thing that ruins her character. I could understand mistakes. I DO NOT understand doing the exact opposite of a reasonable course of action every time. When time is of the essence, she floats around and shows off her underwear. When she's doing a precise task that requires care and focus, she rushes through it and fumbles everything for long enough that coincidence takes pity on her and throws her a bone. So, let's follow Sandra's boobs though our little whirlwind tour of the ISS, shall we? Let me see here... a little wandering about the station to waste time and bring high-speed stabby, serrated death that much closer, ignoring an obvious electrical fire sounds nice. That's something that people would do without the slightest thought, right? Maybe I should spray some water into the air and all over these sensitive instrument consoles while I float down to check the communication systems that I already know don't work, in order to talk to people that could do nothing to help me in any case because fires on a space station tend to BECOME A PROBLEM WHEN LEFT UNSUPERVISED!

So, after nearly killing herself (Damn. So close to a satisfying ending!) by failing spectacularly at using a fire extinguisher, the impact to her head caused her two functional brain cells to bump into each other and create the impulse that perhaps she should cease dawdling and get back to George Clooney's original plan of getting the duck out of fodge because there's the blazing fury of hell on the inside and an approaching metal salad shooter on the outside of the station. Well, and the vacuum of space too. Suffice it to say a number of things are poised to swiftly end the star-studded career of those magnificent boobs, and so finally some motivation occurs that resembles self-preservation. Wow, that's dangerously close to a characteristic that real human beings exhibit on a fairly regular basis. Dr. Stone had better be careful or someone might notice that there's some sort of person attached to her world-famous boobs. I mean, they've gotta be famous by now. They're visible from space!

Alright, so here's where Dr. Stone' never developing of any non-boob positive personality characteristics really starts to become a problem. Firstly, her one saving grace is that she never just broke down and cri-awww dammit she's crying now, nevermiiIIOH MY GOD THAT IS NOT HOW CRYING IN SPACE WORKS! (For reference, I cut some very creative profanities out of this part. Sorry, but I had to stay below the character limit somehow.) Okay then... Despite a whole movie worth of pissing me off being condensed into a few seconds there, the lullaby scene that followed was kind of cute and almost made her seem like a person, but nowhere near enough. You see, that's the problem with having a shabby, cardboard cutout boob-vehicle in place of where your main character is supposed to be. When it became clear that the craft was out of fuel for no adequately explained reason, probably teen space punks siphoning the tank, the Good Doctor's go-to solution was shutting down life support and dying in relative comfort to avoid being turned into space shishkabob by the approaching orgy of jagged metal. This was meant to be dramatic, or a sympathetic moment, or probably just about anything besides "Good! That bitch doesn't deserve to live. At least the cold will preserve her boobs for the archaeologists of future generations to recover. The only bad thing is I can't enjoy them because they've got some commie bastard's name plastered all over them now!" Anyway, someone on the production team thought that my preferred ending might not go over well in the international market, so George Clooney uses the force to deliver a truly legendary lucid dream bitchslap to get Doc titties to stop crapping all over his heroic sacrifice with her sniveling emo bullshit.

George Clooney's unabashed fury scares Boobs PhD. into a truly unprecedented fit of competence, causing her to successfully execute the the half-second rocket burn needed to propel her to the next tin-plated space death-trap acStone the way, because all major space objects are always located within easy visual distance of each other because science. Now then, in her competence-fueled stupor, Dr Stone' highly observant breasts remind her of her earlier painful (and apparently first ever) encounter with Newton's Third Law of motion and she uses what remains of the late George Clooney's residual masculine bravado to perform a totally boss-awesome if poorly executed extinguisher-propelled spacejump. Yes... yes I'm seeing the Russian judge giving that jump a 7.3 for degree-of-difficulty, ouch! That's going to hurt her chance at the medal... Anyway, her charmingly incompetent firefighting had already pissed away most of her propellant so she was once again ragdollized against the side of the station in another space jungle gym sequence that hearkens back to the Mr Magoo failing-to-die-despite-his-best-efforts analogy.

The next scene was one of the more realistic depictions of what would happen in this situation. "Let me climb into this foreign space capsule and I'll just- Oh fuck all the buttons are in Mandarin! Never fear I'll- Oh fuck the manual is also in Mandarin! I'd better start bashing my face against random buttons and praying to George Clooney's all-powerful spirit that this course of action results in something other than my dying horribly!" Following her breasts' keen space-faring instincts, Dr Stone successfully implements something functionally resembling the craft's descent sequence. One fiery roller coaster ride later and bam! Earth. Or rather splash... Lucius and I got kind of distracted in this part talking about those stupid Ruskies and other ferinner-types that are too stupid to make a landing craft that can successfully land in the thing you have a 72% chance of hitting anyway. YEAH! 'Murica! But yeah, Dr Boobs finds a surprisingly legitimate reason to show off her namesake, those handy flotation devices get her to the surface and they all live happily ever after. Presumably. We're left to wonder if the shore she's on is populated by cannibals or something, but I'm okay with that. It lets the viewer fill in the ending. I prefer to think that she landed on the Island of Dr Moreau, thus setting the stage for a much more interesting movie.

Okay, so remember at the beginning when I said I was able to piece together the writers' intent in making Dr Stone a useless, unlikable, unrelatable, putrid psuedo-being that only tangentially resembled a human due to certain particular primary sex characteristics? Yeah, me neither. What the hell was I thinking? Anyway, what I was able to piece together by the end was that someone on the staff decided that character development was good. He wasn't wrong about that, far from it. Character development is totally good. I love character development. Sometimes I like to curl up with character development under the covers on long winter nights until our closeness chases the chill from our bodies and we can both find escape in the blissful oblivion of sleep until the glorious dawning of a new day. But once this concept was brought forth, someone pulled some Dilbert Pointy-Haired Boss logic and decided that Character Development: good means that more Character Development means more good! To accommodate this primitive perspective, the character of Breasts McChestington, Esq. needed more room to grow. That's why instead of progressing from average or at-the-very-least-recognizable human being into a hero worthy of sharing the screen with George Clooney's rugged mountain man beard, Doctor Feelgood there had to start out as the disgusting invertebrate blob that she was for most of the film. This left more potential for the precious character development and thus more movie-goodness-getting for Writer-PHB.

I guess in the end, I'm saying that I understand why they screwed the pooch on this one, but try explaining that to the pooch!